Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)Kristie and I are going to a wedding today. We are leaving Jack and Max with my parents for the afternoon, evening and a sleepover since we won’t be back in town until (hopefully) past their bed time. That’s hopefully as in hopefully Charlie behaves well enough that we can stay as late as we intend, and hopefully my parents can get the boys to bed at a reasonable hour. I’m not sure which scenario is more likely to play out, but either way we’ll all be having some kind of adventure today outside our usual routine.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I know the passage above is Paul suggesting how Christians should relate to one another, but with the wedding on my mind, it strikes me that his words are a fine example for how a married couple should endeavor to behave. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience seem to be like the keys to a successful, committed relationship. “Bear with each other and forgive with one other” probably is on the first page of the marital counseling handbook.
Of course, those same ideals are benchmarks of great parenting — especially with love put over all virtues, binding them together in perfect unity. This Paul guy knew his stuff, eh? And while I think these two important things — a strong marriage and a good approach to parenting — are inextricably linked, one of the most difficult aspects of being good parents, especially with very young children around, is finding the time and energy to commit to strengthening the marital relationship.
Naturally, the physical instinct is to tend to the children. And clearly they can’t be ignored. But without the two parents falling in love in the first place, there would be no children. You can’t just put that marriage on autopilot (especially, as was the case with us, when children come so early in the marriage). But beyond the notion of “happy marriage equals better parents” is a larger concept: Parents who love each other as the Bible commands are setting an almost indelible example for their children.
By treating your spouse and your children with the Christian virtues Paul details, you give them a road map for interacting with the rest of the world. Beyond that, being a good parent while being an openly lousy spouse must be confusing to the child (and also your partner). If you want to live a life of purpose and intent, you can’t just let the peace of Jesus Christ rule in your heart whenever it’s convenient.
As I write each sentence, there is a voice in the corner of my mind. It repeats: “Easy for you to say! You’re happily married. And you’re not as good at living out all those virtues as you’d like to think you are.” True on all counts. Many, many marriages do not endure. Many, many children, even those raised in Christ, do not have exposure to parents who love each other. And the peace of Christ is hard to find in my heart when my kids refuse to get ready for bed or school or church or pretty much anything. There’s a reason I pray for patience every morning — I rarely have any left over from the day before.
It’s difficult for me to write about issues like divorce or otherwise broken marriages because I have very little practical experience, and I won’t begin to guess what goes on in other families’ homes. I in no way want to offend anyone who has endured such a trial by discussing my own experience, but to some extent I can only reflect on what I know personally. I’m no theologian or minister or anything of the sort, just a suburban dad with a wife and three kids trying to make the best choices I can for the future of my family. May God help us all as we walk that same path.
A prayer for April 28:
Lord, thank you for my wife and children. Please help me to remember the ideals of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, not just when relating to my family, but in all my encounters. Thank you for the opportunity to witness my dear friends make the lifetime commitment of marriage today and please tune my ears to any opportunity I may have to be helpful to them as they transition to married life. I ask you to bless their marriage, as well as mine, with your daily presence. May the peace of Christ rule in my heart today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.